Each week, Curt Weiler and I alternate who analyzes the Florida State offense and who takes the defense, and it’s my turn for the former following the Seminoles’ 24-20 win over the NC State Wolfpack. On the one hand, the ‘Noles again underachieved, but more positively, it’s becoming increasingly easy to write the opening of the offensive analysis before the game even kicks off.
That because, once again, the FSU offense failed to score a first-quarter touchdown against a power-five opponent, making the Seminoles 0-7 on the season in doing so. The ‘Noles looked determined to do a better job protecting quarterback Deondre Francois after he once again took serious shots against Clemson last week behind an often bumbling offensive line. And despite NC State’s sizable talent up front, Florida State was largely successful in doing so, utilizing two-back and two-TE sets to increase protection.
But credit the OL, which included Wilson Bell back at right guard following Landon Dickerson’s season-ending injury, for allowing just a lone sack and pair of QB hurries. The line played a cleaner game all around, committing just one false start, and the offense overall was flagged just thrice. And while Francois remained upright for the most part behind improved pass pro, the line, after opening nice holes for Dalvin Cook against Clemson, struggled to do so vs. the Wolfpack. Cook finished with 18 carries for 65 yards and a score, a 3.6 YPC average.
Cook’s best drive came when the ‘Noles marched 70 yards to trim the deficit to 20-17 to end the third quarter. He rushed three times for 33 yards and the aforementioned TD, and FSU looked to have figured some things out, as the score came on the country trey that worked so well a week ago against the Tigers. However, on the final two drives, with Florida State down three, Cook did not register a touch. Yes, the ‘Noles were most certainly taking what was given to them, as NC State routinely had eight defenders in the box, but zero touches for the best player on the field is certainly putting a lot on Francois.
And since FSU didn’t run Francois at all, the weight of the Seminoles’ offense fell specifically on 12’s arm. Once again, he did not throw an interception, completing 22 of 39 passes for 330 yards and the game-winning TD. That came on a rollout, when Francois took a hit to find Travis Rudolph on the backside for a 19-yard score with 3:09 left. The rollout was a rare occurrence for the ‘Noles on the night, which is surprising, as it’s a play that seems to get Francois into a solid throwing rhythm. Francois again missed some passes from the pocket, particularly sailing balls to the sideline, but he improved as the game wore on, with his yards-per-attempt increasing in each quarter. Still, the lacking of a consistent running game put FSU behind the chains serval times, a big reason the Seminoles were just 4-11 on third down.
That said, Francois did not get a lot of help from his receivers early on. The ‘Noles dropped four balls that could have resulted in first downs, two by Rudolph, one by Kermit Whitfield, and one by Nyqwan Murray. But that’s about the only thing Murray didn’t catch in this one, as No. 80 once again led the ‘Noles in receiving. Targeted 14 times, Noonie finished with a team-high nine catches for 152 yards, the first 100-yard receiving game of what looks to be the start of a very promising career. Murray has a nice chemistry with Francois— of course, chemistry is easy to come by when you’re the best receiver on the team. What remains to be seen now is if, after two weeks leading FSU in receiving, and the most road ACC yards a Seminole WR has had since Rod Owens at UNC in 2009, Murray actually gets a start next weekend (no other ‘Nole caught more than three passes).
But speaking of new receivers getting burn, Auden Tate was the Seminoles’ second leading receiver, with three catches for 68 yards, two of which were successfully executed tunnel screens (even if Tate fumbled at the end of one of them). And while FSU deserves credit for finally getting its most talented WRs the football, the question could also be asked: are they being utilized optimally? Tunnel screens seem much better suited for the skills of Murray, while Tate — and not Whitfield, as was the case on what turned out to be a huge fourth-quarter completion — should be the one leaping for jump balls, which, to be fair, he did expertly in high-pointing a ball on a post pattern in the second quarter.
But while we’re discussing how players are being used, let’s discuss backup quarterback Jacques Patrick. I’m kidding, of course, but Patrick deserves credit for throwing a great ball to Ryan Izzo on a halfback pass that drew a pass interference call. A play later, Patrick followed a nice lead block from Fred Jones to score the Seminoles’ first TD— and that was it. One carry, one touchdown. Seems like a pretty good ratio, as Patrick continues to run nicely behind his pads. That was supposed to spell more playing time for him, but following his breakout performance against USF, Patrick has basically been lost on the FSU bench.
Was Saturday night’s performance a model of offensive execution by Florida State? Certainly not. 24 points is nothing to write home about. And while I’d characterize it as sub par, it’s actually as well as the Seminoles have done in ACC away games dating back to last season. Check out these point totals for FSU in conference road games, beginning in 2015: 14, 24, 16, 13, 20, 20, and 24 again on Saturday. At this point, mediocre offensive totals on the road are not an exception or a trend as much as they’re simply part of Florida State’s identity.